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Ex-Italy PM Andreotti convicted over murder

Andreotti has dominated Italian politics
Andreotti has dominated Italian politics

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ROME, Italy -- An Italian court has sentenced former prime minister Giulio Andreotti to 24 years in prison for complicity in the 1979 murder of a journalist, his lawyers have said.

The decision by the appeals court sitting late on Sunday overrules an acquittal three years ago by a lower Perugia court for the man who was made a senator for life. His lawyers say he will challenge the verdict.

"It's a bitter surprise," Andreotti's lawyer Franco Coppi told Reuters. Andreotti, 83, has denied the charges.

A giant of Italian post-war politics, popularly dubbed "Mr. Italy," the veteran conservative will be free pending the appeal.

"I have always believed in justice and I continue to believe, even if this evening I find it difficult to accept such an absurdity," Andreotti, who had been waiting for the decision at his apartment in Rome, said in a statement.

The case involves the murder of Mino Pecorelli in 1979.

The prosecution alleges that Andreotti's aides, in collusion with Mafia gangsters, conspired to kill Pecorelli because he was about to publish revelations that could have ruined his career. It is not known what the information was.

Andreotti has long maintained that cases against him were false, saying he was targeted by political enemies and mobsters getting even for his crackdowns on organised crime.

The judges in the appeals court in Perugia shut themselves behind closed doors on Friday but were not able to reach a decision until Sunday night. The details about the decision will only be officially released at a later date.

Under Italian law, Andreotti would only actually go to prison if he were convicted by Italy's highest appeals court, an outcome that few expect, Reuters said. It was prosecutors who had appealed against Andreotti's original acquittal.

Centre-right politicians rallied behind Andreotti on Sunday night while some left-wing opposition leaders greeted the decision with cautious optimism.

Andreotti's Christian Democrats, who had dominated Italian politics since World War II, were toppled in the early 1990s in corruption scandals.

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